Government should heed church open letter on public policies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2012, 2:28am

The Catholic Church is an important voice in society. It sees itself as having a role to foster justice, freedom, equality and social conscience. The spirit is carried to the fullest by the Hong Kong diocese, which speaks up on issues of public concern from time to time, and has even taken the lead to fight for certain causes on some occasions.

In a step that may be seen by some as unusual, the church has set out its expectations of the new government and the legislature in a recent open letter published in some local newspapers. They also ran an open letter in February, focusing on universal suffrage and other social problems. With Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying approaching his first 100 days in office, the publication of a second letter has inevitably fuelled speculation about whether the church is adopting a more critical stance towards the new government. Some may go further and question whether it amounts to interference.

Those who are familiar with the church's involvement in public affairs will agree that the letter is by no means confrontational. We have seen much more critical positions taken by the diocese on issues such as democracy, social justice and individual rights. This time the tone was relatively moderate. It called for the promotion of family life and fairer housing, education and welfare policies. The proposals are not revolutionary. They echoed voices across different sectors in our society.

The church has rightly highlighted the need for a caring and responsible government. Officials are expected to serve with integrity and accountability. They should also encourage free expression of views from different sectors, listen and respond.

What the church preaches - justice, equality, better care and living for the disadvantaged - concurs with the government's goals. Instead of taking it as pressure and confrontation, the government should seriously listen to the views expressed. The letter is indeed a good reminder of some of our long-running problems. It gives the government a sense of urgency to address the need of the people.

The church and previous administrations did not see eye to eye on many issues, ranging from the right of abode to how schools should be managed. Whether Leung can mend fences remains to be seen. But given the church's influence in public affairs, co-operation is always preferred to animosity. The city's interest is better served if they maintain close dialogue.